Saquon Barkley is a New York Giant. The debate surrounding how that came to be may never end, but the Giants will head into the season with Barkley as the starting running back and most likely a significant portion of the offense catered to him.
While GM Dave Gettleman has continually stressed the importance of running the ball, Pat Shurmur has taken a little more modern view in what he looks for and values in a running back. When Shurmur discussed Barkley he focused not on the running aspect, but his ability to catch the ball. Below is the full quote from Shurmur when asked what Barkley can bring to the team.
“He is unique for me because he has quickness and he has speed. He can score touchdowns from any part of the field and he has a couple of things I am looking for. Number one, he can catch the football. That is first and foremost. He has great vision and then he has what we call in coaching ‘collision balance’. When he goes through the hole and someone tries to tackle him, he can keep his balance, but also when he is stepping up to try and block someone, he has a good set of lowers to drop his weight on him. We are going to nitpick him, I’m sure, at some point, but this is a guy that can do everything.’
This is good news for how the Giants will take advantage of their first-round pick’s skill set. The best backs in the league all make an impact in the passing game and the bigger the impact there, the bigger the impact they have on the game overall. If the head coach is stressing that as an important factor in scouting, it’s likely going to be a large piece of what happens on the field.
It’s often said the NFL is a copycat league. If something works for one team, it’s going to be taken and tweaked by another. With that in mind, here are five pass plays to the running back the Giants should immediately steal and put in their playbook for Barkley.
Jet Sweep/RB Seam
This was a play that made an impact in the opening game of the season and was adopted by other teams across the league throughout the rest of the year — some ran it better than others. The play starts with a jet sweep motion from the outside (Odell Beckham or Sterling Shepard, who ran quite a few jet sweeps last season). As the receiver motion pulls in the defense closer to the line of scrimmage, the back sneaks out the backfield and up the seam.
The Rams added a pulling guard to lead the jet sweep for another layer to the sell.
In both plays, the sweep motion was enough to fool the defense and in each case the running back had enough speed to blow past the defenders in the second level of the defense and enough open field ability after the catch to turn the play into a long touchdown.
Double Slant Slot Wheel
From New Orleans Saints
The wheel route is one of the most simple and effective plays in both college football and the NFL and it almost always guarantees a big play. The wheel is mostly run by a running back out of the backfield, but across the NFL last season the route was increasingly run out of the slot. The slot wheel was one of my favorite plays this past season.
What makes the wheel route so effective is it starts as a flat route before the back turns up the field. When defenders are sitting on the flat, they can so easily get burned once the back turns the corner. It can be even more effective from the slot because the defender is already at a disadvantage preparing for a route that can break either way.
In New Orleans’s version above, Alvin Kamara started in the backfield then motioned out to the slot for a 3x1 set. Once a linebacker moves with Kamara, the Saints know it’s man coverage and they’re good to go. What really sells this play — aside from the slot wheel being great — is the double slants run by the two outside receivers. In man coverage against a single-high safety, it completely clears the sideline for Kamara’s wheel and gives him an open lane to the end zone.
Swing Motion Flat Throwback
From San Francisco 49ers
Key elements from the previous two plays combine here with a little different window dressing. San Francisco used 22 personnel — two backs and two tight ends — with the lone wide receiver on the left side of the formation. Motion comes from a second back in the backfield (Carlos Hyde here) and the 49ers use two tight ends on the right side of the formation in in-breaking routes to clear out that side of the field. It’s the same concept as the jet sweep from the Chiefs and Rams with the double slant clear out from the Saints. The motion is also sold by Jimmy Garoppolo initially looking Hyde’s way after the snap.
In a similar way to one of the other undefeated route concepts — the tight end throwback —it all sets up to allow Matt Breida to sneak out of the backfield for a simple flat route with an entire side of the field to himself for an easy gain of 32 yards.
Goal Line Pick/Slot Out
From Carolina Panthers
This should be an easy play for the Giant to put into the playbook because it was a creation of current offensive coordinator Mike Shula. On the 1-yard line, the Panthers came out in a heavy personnel — two tight ends, two running backs, and an extra offensive lineman. To a defense, that signals the offense is going to try to pound the ball into the end zone.
But before the snap, the Panthers moved into a 2x1 set with the tight ends on each side moving out wide and Christian McCaffrey going from the backfield to the slot while Cam Newton backed up in shotgun. This put the defense into a man coverage situation it was not prepared to play. From the slot, McCaffrey ran a quick out after a small stutter step to freeze the defender. If that wasn’t enough, outside tight end Ed Dickson ran a slant as a pick route to take McCaffrey’s defender out of the play. It was almost impossible for this play to not result in a McCaffrey touchdown.
Outside Stacked Whip
From New England Patriots
On a third-and-5, Patriots running back James White starts this play lined up outside to the left of the formation (top of screen) then motions in to be stacked with wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Stacking receivers puts stress on the defenders who need to decide who and how to cover. You can see in the clip above the two New Orleans defenders are talking to each other after the motion until the ball is snapped. There might not be a defender in the league who wouldn’t be terrified by the sight of Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley lined up stacked on the outside.
Here at the snap, Cooks broke to the outside and up the field to carry the deep defender. White ran a whip route, which breaks in then changes direction back to the outside. The change in direction can give the receiver or running back easy separation while the defender also has to stop and change course. With the sideline cleared from Cooks’s route, White had an easy catch and turn up the sideline for a first down.
This could have been an even bigger play with a worse read from the single-high safety or if tight end Rob Gronkowski had a more free release up the seam instead of fighting through the contact of two different defenders up the seam. For the Giants, that could be Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard in the slot playing the Chris Hogan role, who ran a mirrored whip route on the other side of the field.